Leslie Odom Jr. on Why Young People Should See 'Purlie Victorious'

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Leslie Odom Jr. at T&C's Philanthropy SummitAustin Hargrave - Getty Images
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As Town & Country's 10th annual Philanthropy Summit is underway today at Hearst Tower, Leslie Odom Jr., star of screen and stage and current producer of Purlie Victorious on Broadway, joined a panel to discuss philanthropy and the arts.

Joined by T&C's Editor in Chief Stellene Volandes; Shanta Thanke, Chief Artistic Officer at Lincoln Center; Drew Watson, Head of Art Services at Bank of America Private Bank; and Jody Gottfried Arnhold, a dance educator, advocate, and founder of Dance Education Laboratory, Odom spoke about his current project, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch, and hope for the impact of theater.

"We're having this wonderful, joyful impactful experience in theater, and it's because 62 years ago, a man sat down to write a story about his childhood," Odom says. "He wanted to bring us to this farm in Georgia and tell us what it was like to grow up in the deeply segregated south. This is a primary document as we look at history."

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Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis in 1980.Afro Newspaper/Gado - Getty Images

At Purlie Victorious, there's a student ticket price of $15 to make the show more accessible. "It's so important that the young people come in, because my prayer is that the next Ossie Davis is out there, the next Ruby Dee is out there," Odom says. "That after they see this play, they're going to sit down and write about their corner of the world, and enlighten us and change us and tell us what it was like to grow up in there."

Odom spoke about the experience of scrolling his social media feeds, and thinking, "I desperately am looking for a play. I'm looking for a novel to help me sort through this." He adds, "I beg to be shown something that helps me process, that helps me grieve, that gives me a little bit of hope and strength to make my corner of the world better."

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Leslie Odom Jr. during the opening night curtain call for Purlie Victorious.Bruce Glikas - Getty Images

Later, in response to a question from Volandes about purpose-driven work, he joked, "Nobody takes a job in the theater to get rich! The theater really is an act of service." He continues that the pandemic shifted how he makes decisions about jobs, "that trauma, that awful, horrible, impossible thing, we all lived through—all of us that are lucky enough to still be in this room. We made it to the other side. It made us think about time differently: Who am I spending my time with? Time away from my kids, time away from my family, it better be worth it. It better be worthwhile."

For Odom, nothing could be worth his time or sacrifice more than Ossie Davis's Purlie Victorious, returning to Broadway after 62 years. "I'm telling you, it's like it was written two weeks ago," he tells the audience at Hearst Tower. "It's so prescient and he was a prophet."

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